Saturday, June 1, 2013

Cinetopia Golden Ticket: May 2013

Ever since Steven Spielberg swept the box office with the release of JAWS in the later half of June 1975, the season for summer Hollywood blockbusters seems to have started earlier each year. By my calculations, this year’s summer movie line-up began the first weekend in May and it looks like next year they’ll be starting in April with the release of the next installment of Captain America. It won’t be long before the summer movie season starts right after it ends. In any case, here are the early birds I deemed worthy of checking out in the month of May. I was pleased that none of them were particularly awful (unlike too many selections from my two previous posts), but there are few you can skip and not lose any sleep over.

Movie Fourteen: Iron Man 3 – I absolutely loved the original Iron Man, but I wasn’t terribly fond of Iron Man 2. That doesn’t mean I disliked it, it just didn’t invigorate me the way its predecessor did. We all know sequels are almost never as good as the originals and that seems especially true of superhero movies because their origin stories are almost always more compelling than their subsequent adventures. That means the burden for a superhero movie sequel’s level of quality rests most heavily on the villains. Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight really delivered in those departments, but most others fail to deliver a compelling enough villain to cover the deficit. When you add a third movie, you’re facing an even bigger challenge (Spider-Man 3 and The Dark Knight Rises, for example, being the weakest installments of their respective series). Iron Man 3 kinda painted itself into a corner since it’s not only a follow-up to Iron Man 2, but The Avengers as well. That said, they didn’t do too bad a job. It’s just a bit familiar and unspectacular is all. I will applaud them for being creative, though. As I said, villains are the fulcrum with superhero sequels and Ben Kingsley delivers a grand performance as The Mandarin (in a way you least expect). Still, I’m not sure we need an Iron Man 4. I’ll take an Avengers 2, though.

Movie Fifteen: The Great Gatsby – I’m not sure I’m really qualified to critique this movie since I have never read the book, I haven’t seen the 1974 film version, nor have I seen any of Baz Luhrmann’s other films (except Romeo + Juliet back when it first came out). So, I have no real basis of comparison. Although, on the other hand, maybe that makes me the ideal person to offer an opinion since a good movie should stand on its own, correct? With that in mind, I found it compelling enough. Anyone who’s seen the trailer will know it’s quite flashy, but it has enough integrity not to drown in its own style. In fact, the best things it has going for it are the performances (especially Elizabeth Debicki, who – if she chooses the right roles in the years to come – could become a big star) and that’s a pretty impressive stand-out in a movie this visually abundant. The earnestness of the performances actually makes the overwhelming use of CGI less distracting and even the obvious anachronisms didn’t bother me. I was, of course, aware the entire time that I was watching a movie, but that’s not necessarily a drawback as long as it’s interesting enough. The movie’s nearly two-and-a-half hours long and I didn’t look at my watch once, so what does that tell you?

Movie Sixteen: Star Trek Into Darkness – This is probably the easiest movie in the world to recommend or dissuade. It really boils down to one question: Did you enjoy J.J. Abrams’ previous Star Trek movie? If you did, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t, you won’t. Star Trek Into Darkness is pretty much more of the same, but cranked up a notch so none of it feels rehashed or repetitive. There are, of course, the cynics and die-hard trekkies out there all too happy to tear it apart and that’s their right (I’m prone to the same tendencies when it comes to other certain movies), but really this is pure escapism done right and I had an absolute blast watching it. Gene Roddenberry seemed more interested in social allegory and philosophical commentary, but J.J. Abrams has opted for space opera. That’s probably what’s divided the fans. I grew up in a “Star Trek” household in that my mom and brother were huge fans of the show, so I have a vicarious appreciation for its roots, but don’t feel betrayed by the tangents this new series is exploring. In fact, I’m probably poised to appreciate the changes as much as anyone possibly can since I’m familiar with its origins, but not married to them. We’ll see what I think of STAR WARS after Abrams gets his hands on that.

Movie Seventeen: Epic – To really get my “money’s worth” out of my Golden Ticket, I try to see one movie a week, if I can. However, even though new movies come out with every week, it’s often a challenge to find one I’m willing to watch even for free in a high-end theater. Sometimes, even the drive out isn’t worth it. Ten days had gone by since I saw Star Trek Into Darkness and I was starting to have symptoms of withdrawal. So, a rainy day and a favorable review from the Willamette Week got me to go out and see Epic. Unfortunately, despite what the paper said, I found all my reluctant preconceived notions to be met. It wasn’t god-awful, but it was pretty prosaic and did indeed come across as a Ferngully off-shoot. Its intentions are good and it’s certainly endurable, but - thanks to PIXAR - I don’t really have much patience for movies that appeal to kids but not adults.

Movie Eighteen: After Earth – I think of myself as someone who’s hip to the scene when it comes to movies. I was a bit surprised, though, at the end of this movie (which had no opening credits) to find out it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan. After being surprised, I was amused. Clearly, the lackluster performance (both critically and financially) of his last four movies have influenced the studios to withhold his identity from all promotional materials for this film when, ten years ago, his name would have been as prominently placed as Will Smith’s. Also missing from this film are his Hitchcock-ish suspense, his Spielberg-ian sentimentality, and his Serling-esque endings. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but this film isn’t anything special either way. The action sequences are okay, the special effects are pretty cartoony, the acting is very dry and the story’s real predictable. I liked Will Smith’s speech about fear, but you can hear that in the trailer. As far as post-apocalyptic movies go, this one’s not as good as Oblivion. And Oblivion’s not that good.

Movie Nineteen: Now You See Me – I like a good heist movie. Some try too hard to impress you, though. This one has a good excuse (being that it’s about magicians), but it’s still pretty hard to swallow. I condone suspension of disbelief under most circumstances, but sometimes that’s inconvenient when you give the audience a convoluted scheme to follow. Basically, you’re saying “pay attention, but don’t think too hard”. Anyone willing to do that for this movie, though, will have a good time. It’s totally ridiculous, but remains entertaining. The more I watch Ocean’s Eleven, the less I believe it, but I love it every time. This movie’s trying really hard to be Ocean’s Eleven (just look at the poster), but it doesn’t quite measure up. It’s not as smart, not as funny, and the characters aren’t as interesting, but it’s a good try. It has a great scene that beautifully illustrates how masters in sleight-of-hand could be good at hand-to-hand combat. More scenes like that would have made this film better than it actually is. A stronger script would’ve helped, too.

So, now that the summer’s opening act has played, we’ll see what else it has in store for us. Looking ahead at June, I count about nine movies I’m interested in seeing. So, it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me and probably won’t be getting a tan anytime soon.

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